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17 May 2010

Real Impact of the BP Oil Spill: The Worst Man-Made Disaster in Human History?

As the news of the April 20, 2010 British Petroleum oil rig disaster began to surface, I immediately felt a strong sense that we were not being told the full story of the immediate and potential long term impacts of the disaster. I felt in my gut that the 5000 barrels of oil a day most major news media outlets said were leaking into the gulf was a gross underestimate.

When you study (even casually) the technology of these deep oil wells, and you quickly realize how much pressure they are actually tapping into, the reality is that the term leak does not accurately portray what is really happening. Underwater explosion and oil volcano are more accurate images. According to Steve Wereley, a Purdue University professor, the damage might be closer to "56,000 and 84,000 barrels of oil per day" ("Purdue prof: Oil Spill Underestimated").

The technology of these deep oil rigs is relatively new, and the idea that we can go that far down under the sea and tap into these vast oil reserves deserves pause, even without the recent disaster. When you think of the immense pressure of the sea water at those depths and the upwelling of the oil, which was previously locked into the earth's surface, you may well imagine potential doomsday scenarios when contemplating such a catastrophe.

The most immediate thoughts that went through my mind were what happens if they simply can't stop the "leak"? What if the challenges of the depths and pressure and newness of the technology all prove to be too much and they never stop the leak? Has an explosion ever occurred at such depths? Is there any similar precedent for dealing with such a situation? Will the oil eventually stop flowing on it's own? How long might that take?

Of course, no one knows the answers to these questions. If they were never able to stop it, might it flow for years or even decades? The next thought I have is knowing all the oceans of the world are connected by currents, what would happen if the oil makes its way around Florida into the Gulf Stream currents?

Well, in fact, this is now happening and, again, we are plunged into the void of simply not knowing what will happen. North Carolina residents are now preparing themselves for the possibility that they may see oil on their shores this summer.

There is an interesting video that NASA compiled a few years ago showing the inter-connectedness of ocean currents; it is worth viewing for a moment.

Is it really a stretch to see the oil spreading out across the oceans of the world? What would be the environmental impact of such a scenario? Am I seriously the only human on this planet who has considered such an unfolding of events? I once heard a scientist say that theoretically one drop of water could circulate all the oceans of the planet following the ocean currents. He estimated it would take 1000 years for that to happen. Will we be dealing with the impacts of this disaster for the next 1000 years?

I would now like to focus our attention on a recent video shot by John Wathen, an Alabama resident. He flew over the gulf waters a few days ago and videotaped it. His commentary is rather sobering.

Where does all this leave us? Have we as a species finally gone too far? I have blogged earlier that so called "fossil fuels" with all their drawbacks seemed much safer than the reality of nuclear power, and while I can't (and wouldn't) deny the obvious benefits to human civilization gained from burning these fuels, I feel now that we've crossed some line - some transgression against the holy earth has occurred that can never be remedied. I can only say that this situation has the potential to be the worst man-made environmental disaster in human history. The full impact may never be fully understood. So why is this story not getting more media attention?

There is one last thing I would like to add. Let us remember the eleven men who were killed when the rig exploded; their bodies were never recovered. I seldom find their names mentioned in the media, at least not in the national media. Just eleven men after all. And what about all the people their lives may have impacted through the years? People who depended on them. People who loved them.

Jason Anderson
Aaron Dale Burkeen
Donald Clark
Stephen Curtis
Roy Wyatt Kemp
Karl Kleppinger
Gordon Jones (M-I SWACO)
Blair Manuel (M-I SWACO)
Dewey Revette
Shane Roshto
Adam Weise

If you'd like to see their faces or leave condolences to their families, please do so.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that this BP disaster will mark the peak and subsequent decline of the petroleum oil industry, much as the Essex disaster marked the peak and subsequent decline of the whaling oil industry.


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